Trying to judge an NBA player based off of one professional season is a fool’s errand.
In a league that welcomes in players as young as the ripe age of 18, this should be instinctive, but since the media and the public make judgments after year one, perhaps it is simply too tempting for NBA executives to follow suit. Worse is when these rash assessments of a player lead to equally rash trades of said player.
Even the Boston Celtics, now a team renowned for making smart trades under general manager Danny Ainge‘s tenure, fell victim to this fateful pitfall. The team traded future Hall of Famer Chauncey Billups in his rookie year (after selecting him third overall) for Kenny Anderson, and not much else. The trade went down as one of the worst in team history, and it came about because of discord between Billups and then-coach Rick Pitino.
The Philadelphia 76ers made a similarly confusing trade (as the Philadelphia 76ers tend to do) in moving the reigning rookie of the year, Michael Carter-Williams. It’s too soon to say whether this trade will be as one-sided as the Billups deal, but, generally speaking, it’s bad practice to trade talented young players. In case anybody needed that reiterated.
To draw conclusions based on small sample sizes never pans out in sports; following the 2014 NBA Draft, Elfrid Payton burst onto the scene with his dazzling athleticism and better-than-expected jumper. Many went as far as to chide the Celtics for taking Marcus Smart over Payton, and yet having watched each player in their second season, it would be hard for anyone to stand by that assertion.
Now we come to the 2016 NBA trade deadline, where a Milwaukee Bucks team that earned the Eastern Conference’s 6-seed last year is floundering at the back of the lottery after bringing in big-ticket free agent Greg Monroe. It is hard to envision the move working out for the Bucks, as the team has struggled to juggle it’s talented front-court pieces. As a result, the team has been open to trade calls, with its defensive liabilities on the block including Monroe… and 2014’s 2nd overall pick Jabari Parker.
Making matters more puzzling is the fact that Parker missed 57 games in his rookie season after having knee surgery. An explosive scorer like Parker can hardly be expected to be at full strength after an invasive procedure. But, rather than question how Milwaukee could consider moving him, Ainge should jump in with his wealth of assets. No team is better positioned to make a trade than Boston, and there is one asset in particular that may actually pique the Bucks’ interest.
I’m talking, of course, about the 2016 unprotected first round pick that the Celtics received as compensation for the Paul Pierce–Kevin Garnett deal. Before either side jumps at my throat, give me a second to state my case (and then proceed to jump at my throat regardless). The trade obviously could not be Parker for the Nets pick straight up, so Boston would also need to send back Terry Rozier, RJ Hunter, James Young, or a different player with a contract structured similarly to Parker’s.
From the Celtics perspective…
Boston lacks a go-to scorer. Isaiah Thomas has filled this role admirably over the team’s recent surge; but as we saw in the playoffs last year, once the competition steps up, Thomas is far better in a support role than a featured one. The team is also very thin on the wing. Aside from Jae Crowder, the team has Jonas Jerebko and Young as its only options at small forward.
Milwaukee has been using Parker extensively at power forward (perhaps to hide his struggles to guard quicker wings?), but in my mind, the 6’8″ Parker is far more valuable on the wing. Parker can use his size and strength to out-muscle lankier players and has an arsenal of moves to create shots should he draw a forward outside the paint.
Parker has the potential to be a better scorer than any player currently on the Celtics. It is tantalizing to consider the prospect of the 20 year-old Parker under coach Brad Stevens’ tutelage, particular on the defensive side of the ball. If Parker can cover up his defensive shortcomings, even if only within a strong system with support, he can truly take the opportunity to flourish on offense.
The Nets pick has become the Holy Grail amongst Celtics fans, with dreams of a generational talent falling into the team’s lap distracting many a Celtics fan from the fact that this team is already on the precipice. Parker is a better scoring prospect than any in this draft, and would be an alluring factor in drawing young talent this summer in free agency.
From the Bucks perspective…
If the team is truly considering a trade of its top pick in 2014, it will be hard to find a better trade partner than the Celtics. With all of Boston’s draft picks, young talent, and veterans playing on bargain contracts, Milwaukee will have the option to retool for next year with a better fit, reload for the next few years when Giannis Antetekoumpo will be better equipped to lead a playoff team, or even rebuild altogether.
This pick gives the Bucks the flexibility to find a player who may be better suited to the defense-first, ball-movement type of game they are looking to play under Jason Kidd. Kris Dunn would look spectacular running the point in Milwaukee, or playing off ball next to Michael Carter-Williams. The team could also absorb another young ball handler or wing alongside the pick, and R.J. Hunter‘s sweet 3-point stroke, or Terry Rozier’s tenacious defense may be enticing.
Removing Parker could also prove to be an addition by subtraction for this year’s team. Parker hasn’t looked like himself after his surgery, and between him and Monroe, the Bucks have regressed from being one of the best defensive teams in the Association to one of the worst. They could roll with a small ball lineup featuring Monroe surrounded by athletic spacers in Antetekoumpo, Khris Middleton, Carter-Williams and either first round pick Rashad Vaughn, or the player acquired from Boston.
Can it happen? Yes! But will it…?
The fact that credible reporters are saying Parker is being discussed is a testament to Milwaukee’s disenfranchised view of the former Duke star. But whether or not they will pull the trigger on a deal is anyone’s guess. Given the risk associated with trading a potential franchise player, the smart money says the Bucks won’t deal Parker. But in the past, it hasn’t been the smart teams that make top 3 picks available a year after drafting them.
Of all the names mentioned in trade rumors, Parker is the player I would want the Celtics to target. I can’t think of another player who can be realistically acquired whom I would trade the Nets pick for. But to get a known quantity in Parker, while still having the insurance policy of receiving next year’s Nets pick in a swap, and 2018’s pick makes the possibility too tempting to pass up on.